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This is exactly what Abune Abraham Desta of the Latin Apostolic Vicariate of Meki envisioned. The 66-year-old bishop donated part of the compound belonging to the Missionary Sisters of Mary, Help of Christians to start the Kidist Mariam Center.

“My duty,” he says, “is to work with people for integral human development — both spiritual and material.”

He explains why the work of the center is so important. “First,” he says, “helping women is helping the family, the society. They’re the ones who bear the burden in our country. Secondly, culturally, a lot of pressure is put on women here. I wanted them to get some good skills.”

Abune Abraham describes his efforts over the last 16 years in Meki as “a small contribution” — compared both to the sum of needs, and “the long faith journey” of the Catholic Church in the region over the last century.

“The work we do for the poor people, for the children, the orphans, the food insecure communities is appreciated. My job is not only for the Catholics,” he says, who make up less than 1 percent of Ethiopia’s population. “My job is not only going to the confession box to hear confessions.”

It is a job that continues to face great challenges — notably, a lack of resources.

“We are lucky to be part of this universal church, and I believe in God’s Providence,” the bishop says. “But we have to struggle every day.”

Migrant labor trends pose another challenge, fueled by what he describes as a lack of awareness.

“People think across the ocean there is something better — greener pastures,” he says. “They have no idea the difficulties they are going to face.” The Meki Catholic Secretariat also helps people returning from abroad to reunite with their family.

Abune Abraham really believes in the power of education to turn this tide — “the best gift to give youngsters nowadays,” he says.

“Education is the only way you can change people’s lives,” he continues. “You can’t change them just with charity.”

His great hope is to create job opportunities for young women though this center, so they will stay in Ethiopia. “I want them to do something in their homeland,” the bishop says, “to do something with dignity.”

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Emeline Wuilbercq is a French journalist based in Addis Ababa where she serves as a correspondent for the African edition of Le Monde. Her work has appeared in Jeune Afrique and The Guardian, among other publications.

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